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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

Origin of the Jenny Lind Polka

A letter I received:

We were trying to find who composed the tune :" Jenny Lind (Reel) ". My teacher didn't know who it was either. Can't you help ? I found your name in a book I bought from my teacher, "The joys of fiddle music" by Trent Bruner.

G. L.

New Brunswick, Canada

What I've uncovered:

Hello G,

Here's what I found out: Jenny Lind was a very popular singer born in Sweden in 1820. Everyone liked her so much that a number of tunes and songs were written about and for her, including polkas and other tunes. The first reference to the Jenny Lind "Polka" is in a collection of "popular" tunes for cornet orchestras, published in 1846.

However, in this collection, the composer of the tune was not listed. A dance was later composed to fit the tune, and was published by inventor Elias Howe in 1858, as part of a ball room dance book. Its possible that the "reel" version also comes from this time period. The first known recording of the polka version was by fiddler John Selleck, in Camino, California, in 1939. 

This may have something to do with the fact that the town of Jenny Lind was also in California. It was well populated during the California gold rush, being named after a singing tour of the United States by Jenny Lind in 1850.

There you have it, as much as I know so far!


P.S. I'd appreciate an update, and more information, from any readers!

This article by Ryan J Thomson 1991

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